LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) — “You were little. You had just turned four,” said Stacey Angulo as she flipped through a weathered photo album with her husband, Alex, and their 13-year old son, Marven.
It’s clear from the state of the album that this family often reflects on their journey together.
“I felt called to an international adoption really early in my life,” said Angulo.
Angulo adopted her son, Marven Adams, from Haiti in 2013, when he was 3 years old.
Low on resources, Marven’s birth mother had placed him in an orphanage as a baby.
The country was reeling from its devastating earthquake in 2010.
“Here you’re used to seeing things get rebuilt pretty quickly and even several years into my adoption process, it didn’t seem like anything was really getting rebuilt,” said Angulo.
A decade later, Marven is now a soft-spoken 7th grader who loves science and playing football.
“He’s probably my most well-behaved child of the six,” Angulo said of her and her husband’s blended family. “Super happy to help all the time. Everyone would tell you, he’s a joy to be around.”
Several years ago, Angulo got in touch with Marven’s birth mother in Haiti.
They would talk off and on over Facebook Messenger.
Then the situation in Haiti took a drastic turn when, in 2021, Haiti’s President Jovenel Moise was assassinated.
Since then, the country has turned into a lawless war zone, overrun by gangs carrying out vigilante justice.
“The atrocities and the chaos that is going on there on the daily is more than what most Americans are aware of. I’m talking about beheadings. I’m talking about bodies being burned in the streets,” said Angulo.
Kidnappings are a common occurrence.
This week, five people were killed and set on fire by a vigilante crowd, the AP reports.
On Wednesday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said Haiti was “dangling on the abyss.”
He told the UN Security Council an arms embargo and targeted sanctions issued last year were not enough.
“The state’s lack of capacity to fulfill human rights has completely eroded people’s confidence,” he said. “The social contract has collapsed. The current lawlessness is a human rights emergency that calls for a robust response.”
This winter, Angulo was able to successfully bring Marven’s birth mother and 18-year old sister to the U.S. through humanitarian parole.
His sister says she remembers Marven from when she was a little girl.
“It’s been exciting just getting to hang out with them every day,” said Marven Adams of the reunion with his birth mother and sister.
“This is extraordinary because only God can do this,” said Marven’s birth mother.
Marven’s family does not want to share their names or show their faces for fear of retaliation against their family members who still live in Haiti.
“It’s extremely dangerous to be tied to an American. So if anyone should figure that there are American ties, their lives are immediately in danger and they’re in danger of being kidnapped,” said Angulo.
Marven’s sister, who speaks four languages and wants to have a career as a nurse, said gangs captured students at school.
“When I was in Haiti, I was really scared,” she said.
According to a news release from January, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) provided an additional $56.5 million for the people of Haiti in response to the country’s humanitarian crisis and cholera epidemic.
This brings the total amount of aid for Haiti to $228 million since 2021.
Angulo, like Volker Türk from the UN, wants to see more urgent action taken.
“If we don’t press our government to step up and do something to help stabilize that area, those 8 million people are going to have to go and leave and go somewhere because they’re fleeing with their families for their safety,” said Angulo.
Angulo is working to bring more people to the States, including a mother and daughter who, she says, have been without electricity for one month.
For those wanting to help, Angulo suggests donating to the Aid International Organization.